IN THE BASEMENT of the Frank Melville Library at the State
University at Stony Brook, the mood is quiet, almost serene - except in one
corner of the university bookstore, where Angela Corry is preparing for her own
version of D-Day.
It is the middle of the summer, but Corry's deadline looms closer each day.
The bookstore's textbook manager since February, she is in the midst of
getting her world in shape for the 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students
who begin classes on Sept. 5. About halfway to her goal, on this weekday
morning she is supervising a cadre of student employees who are counting, and
pricing, packing and unpacking, cleaning and shelving the new and used books
that are at the heart of a university education.
It is not a very complicated job, she says, but Corry, who is facing her
first major league-like challenge as a textbook major-domo, adds, "The problems
are always in the details.
"This is my first time," she says, referring to the new semester. "Summer
school was an easy rehearsal."
Corry arrived at Stony Brook almost six years ago as an undergraduate with
an undeclared major and the need to find a job to help finance her education.
Almost immediately she found work in the campus bookstore. Eventually she was
putting in enough hours there to match those she devoted to schoolwork.
About four years ago, as her bills piled up and her options became more
limited, she opted to leave the school as a student, but stay at school as an
employee of the bookstore. Her first employer was Barnes & Noble, which
previously leased the space in the basement of the massive library. When a
different company, Wallace's, based in Lexington, Ky., took over the bookstore,
she stayed for a year and then accepted a better job as the assistant manager
at the other campus bookstore, which serves the medical school.
But earlier this year she was recruited to take on her current job. For
Corry, the objective is simple: No student should be without the textbook
required by a professor for the school's nearly 700 classes. It's a lesson she
learned the hard way in her freshman year, when the book required for her
introductory history course was six weeks late arriving on campus.
Her desk in a makeshift workroom is cluttered with orders, half- consumed
bottles of Snapple and bottled water, and a variety of arcane titles, such as
"Death Without Weeping - The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil."
Surrounded by a half-dozen student workers wearing bright red T-shirts with
the words "College Bookstore" on the back and the question, "Need Help?" on
the front, she walks though the maze of empty and half-filled shelves, past
books lined up ready to be inventoried.
At 10:42 a.m. on a Wednesday, she stands near a lineup of books, all with
different titles, all used, and all delivered that morning.
Nearby on the floor, sitting cross-legged, is a 20-year-old transfer
student from Moscow who has just enrolled in the school's computer science
department. For Elena Cholokhova, 20, who needs at least 42 more credits to
graduate, the job today is repetitive: She is literally cleaning used books -
erasing all records of previous ownership, such as names and phone numbers-and
then sticking the familiar yellow and black "used book" sticker on each one's
The books come from all over the country. Some from Wallace's warehouses,
but also from other sources. Here is a pile of red art books that have made
their way to Stony Brook via Penn State.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of books," says Corry, who has no real
need to know what the aggregate total is, but rather what each professor
requires for each course, and whether, if a professor turns in a book order
late, she can still scramble to fill it in time for the first classes.
But she knows her stock. Reviewing piles of texts laid out in a row on the
floor, Corry goes down the line and without pause points to one, "Sociology
105," looks at another and whispers, "Anthropology 102."
One survey estimates that the average college student spends about $600 a
year on textbooks, but Corry knows that some majors - especially the sciences
and computer study - can be more expensive than some of the humanities.
Mixed in among the inventory are familiar trade paperbacks like "The Great
Gatsby" that are required for English classes, as well as hefty biology
textbooks - some with their own CD-ROM - that cost close to $100 new. "Most of
the books are not designed for pleasure reading," Corry says. And she concedes
that sometimes, when the store buys back books at the end of a semester, one
she sold months before comes back as pristine as it went out.